Veronica Roth talks Writing

I absolutely LOVE it when authors take the time to guide others into the world of writing. Getting advice from someone who has been there themselves really helps aspiring writers like myself…and perhaps you as well? A few days ago, author Veronica Roth (Divergent trilogy) discussed the world of writing and answered several interesting questions by readers on her tumblr theartofnotwriting.tumblr.com:

Do you have any advice for beginning writers who think they can’t get anything decent done?

My first piece of advice is stop thinking about whether it’s “decent” or not! Assessments of quality are stifling at the early stages of drafting in particular (and all throughout the writing process!)— just do the best you can at any given moment. And my second piece of advice is to stop worrying about getting anything “done”! All I did from ages 11-20 was write little broken pieces of stories that fizzled out after ten pages, twenty pages, fifty pages, three hundred pages…and then one day I found something that I thought was worth writing to the end. And after that I was able to finish things more often. But no time spent writing little pieces is ever wasted— Divergent was one of those pieces, for me, something I started and abandoned quickly after my freshman year of college and then picked up again four years later with a fresh perspective. I don’t really think any writing is wasted. Everything gets you where you need to go.

So, once you’ve stopped worrying about both of those things, try to just write because you love it. Write even when you don’t love it, too. And you’ll be fine.

How many drafts did you go through before making the final draft for Divergent? And what about Insurgent? Did you make more or less drafts for that one?

SO MANY DRAFTS. Oh good heavens. At least seven? It depends on what you call a “new draft”— I call it anything to which you make substantial changes. Two before I got an agent, two after I got an agent, and maybe three after I got a publisher? For Insurgent I had fewer drafts simply because I had less time. I’m one of those people who has really sloppy rough drafts and only really discovers the important parts of the story when I revise. For me, the real work of writing is in revising. It’s my favorite part.

Who is your favorite character from the Harry Potter series and why? It says a lot about a person! 🙂

I was just rereading the seventh book and I realized that my favorite character is actually…Harry. He’s so, so good, when he had every excuse to be bitter toward the world, toward everyone, and selfish. But because we live in his head for seven books, I also feel like his goodness is earned, and his flaws are real and present on the page, which makes me love him even more.

Aside from Harry…I really love the character of Snape. Not because I think he’s fully redeemed by the end of the series (he was still a Death Eater! And still believed— to an extent that is unclear— in the supremacy of pure blood. And was a jerk to Harry for bad reasons!), but because he’s neither wholly good nor wholly evil, and because it’s hard for me to decide if I like him or not. All those things, to me, add up to a really good character.

I’m not sure what those things say about me, but…there it is!

Do you feel like you have a responsibility to your younger audience, in communicating or voicing social issues or teaching specific life lessons within your writing? or do you just write whatever you like reading, and just see it as a form of entertainment? or how do you find the balance between the two?

I’m glad you asked this. I’m not really into “teaching lessons” with my writing, for various reasons. The first is that trying to “teach” with writing generally results in heavy-handedness, and that’s something to avoid, not strive toward, for artistic reasons. The second is that because I write for young readers, I feel like it’s especially important that I don’t try to preach anything to them— that would be a scary thing for me, because it would mean that I’m assuming I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what teenagers need to believe in order to be formed into “good people.” And I don’t— I don’t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what people need to hear, how they need to hear it, and when they need to hear it. I also don’t think every person “needs” the same thing. What I’d like more than to teach lessons is to teach people to ask questions of themselves.

I also don’t just write for entertainment value, though I think it’s pretty important that my stories be entertaining. I do grapple with deeper things when I write— Tris’s struggles with what selflessness means and what bravery is are examples of that— but mostly what I’m trying to do there is challenge the beliefs I already hold, and to communicate, in the best way I possibly can, something that feels true and honest. If I feel a responsibility to my younger audience, it’s that: to be as honest as possible, even while writing fiction, and to be as humble as I can, not talking down to anyone. I don’t know if I attain those goals on a regular basis or ever. But that’s always what I have in mind.

How important are the names of your characters to you? How much time do you spend thinking about them? Do you use any sources to inspire you?

Most of the time, I just pick a name that sounds “right” somehow and I don’t spend much time on it. I also don’t get attached to names, and will change them if they don’t work (in the first draft of Divergent, for example, there were a LOT of characters with names that started with “A,” which got really confusing. So now there’s really only “Al.”) The name I agonized over the most was Tris’s, because I wanted to find something stuffy-sounding that shortened to something tough-sounding, which is harder than I thought it would be! “Tobias” is a kind of homage to my favorite Animorphs character (have loved the name ever since, though as it turns out, I’m probably in the minority! Ha). The other names I chose because I wanted them to feel “regular” but not so common as to be forgettable.

The source I use most often is behindthename.com— great resource for writers trying to name characters!

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